Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

wrigley scoreboard featureThe Cubs lost again yesterday, so what follows was always going to be unpleasant. Out of morbid curiosity, I looked into some things, and doing so made it even more unpleasant. In advance: you’re welcome.

First, the games. Having beat the Cubs, the Giants pulled to within 5.5 games of the second Wild Card spot. As I said before the series started, short of a sweep, things were going to be tough for the Giants, though not insurmountable. The Giants do have a favorable schedule the rest of the way – after they play the Cardinals this weekend, that is – so that will help. But, to make up the difference between themselves and the Cubs, if the Cubs go just .500 the rest of the way, the Giants would need to go 24-11 to pass them. Not impossible, but tough. Even if the Cubs limped in with a losing stretch, the Giants will still have to be very good to pass them. So maybe it’s not all unpleasant in this space.

As for the NL Central, well, the optimism of the past week is now all but gone. The Cardinals and Pirates won again last night, because of course. It was the Cardinals’ fifth straight win, and the Pirates’ 12th in their last 15. These teams are just so absurdly hot, though you could pretty much say that about the entire season. The Cubs fell to 4.0 games behind the Pirates, and 8.5 games behind the Cardinals.

Now for the unpleasant part – I was curious about the Cardinals’ insane record, which has them on pace to win 105(!) games, despite significant and (theoretically) impactful injuries all over this year. Certainly, much of that record is deserved by their performance – this is a good, complete team. But some of it’s gotta be luck, right? Luis hinted at this recently in an article, but I wanted to check the Base Runs record at FanGraphs and the Third Order record at Baseball Prospectus, each of which is essentially a measure of what a teams’ record should be if you consider the underlying performance and do a variety of calculations to strip away things that may not necessarily be within a team’s control.

The Cardinals’ Base Runs record and Third Order record are nine games worse than their actual record. By that measure, they are the second most fortunate team in baseball at BP (behind only the Twins), and third most fortunate team in baseball at FG (behind the Twins and Royals).

So, not only are the Cardinals legitimately one of the best teams in baseball this year, they are also among the most blessed on top of that.

I don’t want to get into a Voodoo Magic versus Something Controllable But Undefinable debate about how the Cardinals are doing this. Instead, I just wanted to point it out so that you could dream about how things might look differently in the Central this year if the teams’ records reflected how they’ve performed, and not how they’ve performed + the inevitable flukey stuff that makes baseball baseball.

The Cubs, by the way, have also been fortunate, just not as fortunate as the Cardinals. Base Runs says the Cubs are six games worse than their record, and Third Order has them four games worse. The Pirates are also six games worse by Base Runs, and six games worse by Third Order.

In other words, the three teams at the top of the standings in the NL Central and near the top of the overall record race have all likely been fortunate this year (that’s usually the case with the teams with the top records) … but the Pirates and especially the Cardinals have been more fortunate than the Cubs. If the actual standings matched these expected standings, the Cubs would be between 3.0 and 5.5 games out of first in the Central. Hamburgers.

(Before you get too sad for the Cubs, though, make sure you check out the poor Athletics and Indians.)

One other thing while I’m annoying you: remember the time the Cubs took a huge early lead against Carlos Martinez in St. Louis and lost? Remember the time the Cubs were one strike away from beating the Cardinals at Wrigley and lost on a Jhonny Peralta homer? If the Cubs win those games instead of losing them, they’re 4.5 games behind the Cardinals instead of 8.5 games.

Hey, it’s still been a great year for the Cubs. Happy Friday!

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